Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fourth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym showed the other model and Father Drew gasped at its intricacy.

A few days later, Father Drew was visiting Gwilym in his home and saw his son sitting by the bedside, talking with his father and playing with the two puzzles he was holding on the day of the collapse. The dinner board was between them, resting on Bleddyn's knees and Gwilym's bed. “What are these two wooden toys you play with, son?” he inquired.
“They’re two different ways to build a tower. My father made them. Look how they work.”
Bleddyn soaked them in water and pulled them apart. They were miniature logs with notches cut out; very well fashioned.
“Now this first one is like the way the tower was being built,” Bleddyn explained while his father looked on indulgently. “Watch what happens when we put it together and the wood shrinks. All wood will shrink over time.”
Bleddyn expertly stacked the logs on top of each other, the notches just providing enough room for the logs above and below to snugly fit. He placed this in the doorway where the sun could dry it.
“And while that dries, we’ll build the other one.”
In this model, notches were angled in both logs so that the building was a little more complex. Once again it came together snugly and Bleddyn placed it next to the other in the doorway.
“They’ll be dry in an hour and you’ll see why my father is so smart.”
Father Drew smiled and turned to Gwilym. “How are you today, son? Is the pain any better?”
“Grainne gave Kaitlyn some tea for me that eases the pain a little. She also says that we are to have twin sons! How do you like that?”
“She is wise in the healing arts but I believe that only God knows what kind of children you are to have. But I think she can tell if you are to have two. That is dangerous for Kaitlyn. Will you bring her to the convent for the birth? A midwife may not be enough.”
Gwilym hesitated and stammered out a response, “Well, I have high respect for your nuns and all, but I heard what Grainne did for my leg and I’d like to have her at the birthing. Didn’t you say she is a skilled healer?”
“I did say so, and from what I saw her do, she is skilled. But I have asked about her and she is unreliable, coming and going at her whim. Are you sure she will be in the village when you need her?”
“The village midwife said she will send for her when the time is right. Tirion says she always comes when called.”
Father Drew smiled kindly on the man. “Be it as you wish. I have another matter to discuss with you Gwilym. The tower must be built before the summer and I need a new foreman. All the men say they will follow you. I can double your wages and pay you for the time you will lie in bed. What do you say to that?”
Gwilym grimaced as he twisted in bed, then looked with interest into the face of the priest. “The people of this village think there is a curse on the tower. It has been rebuilt many times.”
Father Drew met Gwilym’s gaze and replied, “Yet, you do not believe in the superstitions. Why has it fallen so many times?”
“The tower was built in Vortigern’s time
and fell many times during its raising. If you go down in the pit you can see why. Look at the sides of the hole and you can see evidence of an underground lake. Just as the stories tell, there was a pool of water under the foundations that had to be drained away first. That would have made all earlier structures unstable until it was drained.”
“The stories tell that Merlin, when he was a young boy, saw the pool in a dream and two dragon eggs in the pool. I think that last part is just fancy. After they drained the pool and diverted the spring, they built the tower. But the structure of a tower is the wooden supports. And those supports cannot last forever as the wood shrinks and grows old. The wind here blows almost always from the west and the old tower fell to the east.”
“How can we build it stronger, Gwilym?”
“Bring the models, son,” Gwilym said quietly to Bleddyn.
Bleddyn brought the two puzzles that had been drying in the doorway. Gwilym held one up before the eyes of the priest and explained, “Look first at the way the corners on this model are built. Each log has its underside notched out to fit the curve of the log below it. Then a pin is placed to hold it there. As the wood shrinks over time, the logs want to ride up this curve, opening up the structure. The only things trying to hold them in place are the little pins. Look carefully.”
Father Drew looked over the skillfully built model, a perfect miniature of the tower being built up to yesterday, and saw that indeed the little sticks were pulling up at the corners. In one case he could see a pin bending under the strain. “Very well made, Gwilym! But what makes it shrink?”

“Have you ever moved freshly cut wood to a woodshed, Father? And then, a few years later, moved those same pieces of wood to the fireplace? It’s a lot lighter the second time you move it. Wood is made up mostly of water. That’s why it doesn’t burn so well right after cutting. It shrinks a lot in those first two years. Now, we use seasoned wood for building but it still shrinks some more after this. My models show the shrinking process speeded up. This type of wood very easily sucks up water and dries quickly too. So in a couple of hours you can see what ten years of drying does to a real tower.”
“You say that this model shows the tower we just built. But where are the logs that you added diagonally?”
“Bah!” Gwilym replied with a disgusted look on his face. “That was Tarrant’s idea. He thought that the tower would stand better if cross-braced. Not such a terrible idea on the horizontal but, when he wanted to add them leaning against the top corners, he couldn’t understand how they would cause the structure to be unbalanced. He had to see for himself. I tried to argue with him but that man can see no reason. And now I paid for it with my leg and many others with cuts and breaks. Watch this.” Gwilym laid another miniature log in the fashion that the one that caused the collapse was placed and Father Drew could see it pushing apart the top corner.
“Show me your solution, Gwilym.”
Gwilym showed the other model and Father Drew gasped at its intricacy. The corners were all squared off and the end of each log was cut in precise angles in three dimensions that matched the cuts on the log above and below it. At first glance the corner looked symmetrical but, as Father Drew looked closer at each log, he saw that each was cut at an angle on the underside that was horizontal to the ground and on the top side angled relative to the ground, with the next log’s underside then being parallel to the ground since they came in at right angles.
“They call it a dovetail, since it looks just like the tail-feathers of a dove. Now, when these logs shrink, they simply pull each log closer together and make the whole tower tighter. No pins are needed. You’ll see in another hour or so the difference between the two. Put them back in the sun, Bleddyn.”
“Where did you learn this work?” Father Drew asked.
“I traveled a lot in my youth and saw many building solutions.”
“Will this work for my tower?”
“Mostly,” Gwilym replied. “Also, we will need to turn the tower so that it faces the wind at an angle. No sense fighting the wind the whole time. Let it pass by you, I always say.”
“I would like you to manage this project, Gwilym. I see you are the man for the job.”
“I’ll do it, Father.”
They continued talking for another hour about their mutual love of reading, especially reading of the gospels.
“Then, you know your Latin, Gwilym?” asked Father Drew.
“Aye. My father also taught me Greek and Aramaic.”
Father Drew raised his eyes in surprise. “You are more of a scholar than I. Did you ever consider the priesthood before you married?”
“No father. I always preferred to find the inconsistencies in the gospels rather than preach the truth that lies within.”
“Yes. Like the place of Jesus’s birth for instance. Matthew and Luke place it in Bethlehem, Mark and John say He is from Galilee. Why would they tell different stories?”
“Mark and John do not say where He was born, they merely mention where He grew up. We can assume that they simply left out where He was actually born.”
Gwilym frowned. “The only reason the later Gospels mention Bethlehem at all is to ‘fulfill’ earlier prophesies that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. And that census ruse that appears in Luke. Can anyone actually believe that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Can anyone believe that everybody in the entire Roman Empire had to travel to the birthplace of his ancestor to be counted? What if one were not entirely inbred and had more than one ancestral line? Where would one go? And even if that wasn’t the case, can you imagine the upheaval of people, the looting of abandoned properties, the sheer discomfort? And I have never heard of any other mention of this great census in any other work. It is my belief that the author of Luke made this up as a ruse to explain why a Galilean came to be born in Bethlehem.”
Father Drew looked hurt, then thoughtful and said, “It seems that more study is in order.”

Gwilym blushed, then looked up in pleasure at the sound of his approaching wife, Kaitlyn. As she entered the room, she stumbled over something and there was a sound of sticks scattering. Gwilym tried to rise but winced in pain. Father Drew rushed to the doorway to support Kaitlyn, who had caught herself and was breathing fast.
“That Bleddyn!” she cried. “I’ve asked him to keep these puzzles out of the way. I cannot even see my feet, leave alone anything under them. Now then, how are you Father?”
Father Drew helped her to the chair, where she turned her radiant smile upon him. Now it was his turn to blush and, to cover his embarrassment, he turned and recovered the wooden models. The first one was reduced to a pile of individual sticks; the second one had been kicked to the opposite wall of the house, still intact.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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